This offseason is different for the Braves. As back-to-back NL East champions, there’s no doubt that the team’s core is built to win, and signals from the front office – both in their words and actions – suggest that they plan to aggressively upgrade the team this offseason. After Alex Anthopoulos took a more patient and measured approach to his first two offseasons as Braves GM, he appears to be taking advantage of the Braves’ winning window, with the backing of ownership that seems to recognize the opportunity in front of them.
The frenetic pace at which the Braves have addressed some of their lesser needs could be an indication that the team plans to make a splash this offseason. It’s not even December yet, and the Braves have already signed four free agents for a total of $72.25 million (those numbers increase to six players for $80.25 million if you include restructuring of Nick Markakis’s and Tyler Flowers’ contracts). With clear needs still for a power bat and at least one starting pitcher, the table is set for Anthopoulos, a general manager known for making bold moves to put his team over the top, to focus the remainder of his budget and efforts on obtaining impact players to fill those voids.
The pace of signings is not the only glaring difference in Anthopoulos’s approach this offseason. Anthopoulos is operating like a GM less encumbered by a tight budget, with the freedom and autonomy to make the deals that will make his team serious World Series contenders. This week’s signing of catcher Travis d’Arnaud is the perfect example. The two-year, $16 million pact was slightly above what many in the industry believed d’Arnaud would garner (MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year, $14 million deal). Last offseason, Anthopoulos likely would’ve waited until January or so and tried to sign the last remaining free agent catcher among the group like d’Arnaud, Jason Castro, and Alex Avila for a lower AAV. However, d’Arnaud is the player that Anthopoulos wanted, and he wasn’t afraid to pay a couple million more to secure him early in the offseason. Much like the signing of Will Smith after his agent reportedly told interested teams that Smith would accept the Giants’ qualifying offer if no team offered him significantly more, Anthopoulos saw the player he wanted and pounced on the opportunity to sign him.
Also unlike prior offseasons, this offseason there’s been no more cautious wordsmithing from the front office about their plans. Last offseason, the front office repeated phrases like “finding value,” “financial flexibility,” and something called a “glide slope.” This offseason, the messaging has been very different. Mike Plant, longtime Braves executive and current CEO of Braves Development Company, told Liberty Media investors last week the team plans to supplement its young talent “with some key veteran acquisitions.” Further, Plant said, “We’re set up to win, and we’re going to go after it.” Then Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei excited Braves fans by saying “We’re going to spend some money, and we have relative freedom under the cap and in our payroll compared to most people.” (Note: It is wild to hear the Braves front office talking about the luxury tax cap here and with the restructuring of the Markakis and Flowers deals as if that’s a figure they’re keeping an eye on. The luxury tax threshold for 2020 is $208 million. While strange, don’t get your hopes up.)
At a minimum, the front office has set expectations high, both in their words and actions. This is especially noteworthy because it is the same front office that last season was so careful in trying to manage offseason expectations in the face of record revenues. Hearing two of the team’s executives saying that the Braves are “going for it” only to be bolstered by Anthopoulos being the most active GM so far is like music to Braves fans’ ears.
What this all means is yet to be seen. The Braves have already improved their bullpen and at catcher, and there are several potential moves that could put this roster over the top. Don’t expect the Braves to be seriously in on Gerrit Cole, but free agents like Josh Donaldson, Zack Wheeler, and Madison Bumgarner could certainly make an impact. Could Anthopoulos dust off his blockbuster trade skills and make a move for Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant? Jeff Passan of ESPN recently noted that some executives believe Anthony Rendon is open to a short-term, high-AAV deal, which is the type of deal Anthopoulos is more inclined to make. If the Braves were able to shed some committed money via trade, could Rendon be within the Braves’ reach? Perhaps I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself, but what we’ve see so far this offseason is encouraging enough that a big splash cannot be counted out.
As a lifelong Braves fan, I should know better than to get my hopes too high about an offseason. But this one feels different.